After the episodic release of the HITMAN reboot in 2016, the arrival of a FULL sequel in HITMAN 2 is a welcome return to a traditional format. This time around, fans get every level at once and don’t have to wait months for a new one to come out.
And that’s fantastic, because HITMAN 2 presents a fun tale whose twists and turns would have been agony to wait months to see unfold. But even more importantly, the sequel brings with it a host of tweaks and improvements to HITMAN’s rebooted systems that make the sequel just that much better than its predecessor in every way that matters.
In short, HITMAN fans will love this, because it’s more of the same but with enough quality-of-life additions that it’s even more enjoyable, wrapped up in a good story.
Story-wise, let’s just say that HITMAN’s big twist continues to play out in HITMAN 2, where Agent 47 and his longtime handler, Diana Burnwood, go after some of the big players in the ongoing skirmish between two groups of international power players. The reward for doing so is not just having a hand in eliminating dangerous people driving a selfish agenda, but also of possibly finding out more about Agent 47’s murky past.
It’s not a story that you influence, though, you simply experience it from 47’s perspective as the agent of the changes that play out. I am quite fine with this, because the joy of this HITMAN game comes less from the underlying reason for 47 doing what he does than from the doing itself.
Assassinating targets has, simply put, never been this much fun, and neither have there been so many ways of doing it.
Setting the Scene
There are six levels in the main game, and while this doesn’t sound like a lot, trust me, it’s plenty: developer IO Interactive stuffed so much to see and do and so many ways to off 47’s targets in each that you’ll literally spend hours per level experiencing everything on offer.
Take Miami, for example, the game’s second mission. It’s set in a huge, sprawling complex alongside a race track, where 47 must take out Robert Knox, the chairman of a high-tech corporation, and his daughter Sierra who are there to enjoy and participate in a high-stakes race, respectively.
For Sierra’s fate, 47 can sabotage her car so that she dies in an accident, take her out on the podium as she stands there celebrating, he can snipe her as she drives down the track’s main straight, poison her so she seeks out a bathroom where he gets the opportunity to strangle, shoot, or drown her, or he can simply blast her in the face with his silenced pistol at the earliest opportunity and run like hell for the nearest exit or hiding place.
And that’s just a sampling of the options available to the player here to take out a single target; on most levels, there is more than one target to take care of and opportunistic additional objectives to complete. There’s a lot to do, and plenty of ways to do it all.
Tools of the Trade
At 47’s disposal are tools and disguises with which to infiltrate each level’s various areas, and he must use these in smart ways to evade security, avoid being recorded by cameras, and avoid attracting attention to himself while eliminating his targets and reaching an escape point.
Some NPCs can still see through 47’s disguises, though (a gripe from previous games). It’s conceptually annoying but I’ll admit it’s necessary to keep the game from being a cakewalk, so I’ll give it a pass.
Completing levels is a delicate balancing act that requires careful observation, good timing, a willingness to try things and take risks, and some creativity on the player’s part. It’s highly rewarding to get it all right and escape into the night, still unknown, as a Silent Assassin.
I played on the Professional difficulty setting, essentially other games’ “Normal” mode, which allowed me to save anywhere without limit. It let me try things I might not otherwise have tried if I was limited by a checkpoint system.
For those who prefer a tougher challenge, there’s Hardcore mode which removes saves altogether and buffs enemies’ awareness and aggressiveness, meaning you’ve got to know what you’re doing if you’re going to succeed. I tried this but found it a bridge too far – I play HITMAN games to enjoy myself and laugh at its dark humour and playing on Hardcore was just too hard and stressful for me. A Purist I’m not.
The Joys of Reaping
The initial joy of HITMAN 2 comes from discovery: observing and exploiting target behaviour, absorbing the story that you’ll catch snippets of as the level unfolds, and getting out clean.
After the first few hours of playing a new mission, that joy is superseded by the satisfaction that comes from knowing the level intimately and using that knowledge to complete all of the game’s many challenges.
First, there are tons of these, ranging from unique ways to assassinate targets to the use of specific disguises, tools, and distraction techniques. Second, completing challenges gives you experience points which level 47 up and grant him new tools, new weapons, new starting points, and new outfits which can be employed in the level to complete even more challenges.
Third, there’s a global leaderboard that you can use to rate your own performance against other players (friends included). Adding it all up, there’s plenty of incentive to re-play missions.
Hold my hand (or don’t)
HITMAN 2 does have one minor failing for anyone looking for the purest HITMAN experience, though – it does try to hold the player’s hand a bit aggressively by pointing them towards what it calls “Mission Stories” which were left for players to discover on their own in the first game.
These are narrative elements peppered throughout the game’s levels that offer more insight into what’s going on, and there are several of these per mission that must be played through if the player is to get a full appreciation of the story.
That’s all well and good, but it also undermines the joy of discovery somewhat. I got the feeling that perhaps IO was just keen to make sure players didn’t overlook what the devs had so painstakingly cooked up for them, which players might have done in the first game.
This was further emphasised by the fact that HITMAN 2 allows owners of 2016’s HITMAN to import those levels into the HITMAN 2 front-end. This serves to upgrade those levels’ visuals to HITMAN 2’s very high standard (the game is fricking gorgeous, Mumbai in particular) and to allow IO to enhance them with the addition of Mission Stories and the various other performance/interface/tool tweaks included in the sequel, offering gamers the most complete and streamlined HITMAN experience available.
Even if you don’t own HITMAN 2, you can download and install its front-end for free if you own the first game, which allows you to experience those levels as completely as IO intended. I thought this was a nice touch.
Brendyn and I played Sniper Assassin a few months back, when HITMAN 2 was first made available for pre-order, so I won’t go into that. Suffice to say it’s in every copy of the game now and gives players the chance to play co-operatively for the first time in a HITMAN game (albeit from a stationary position) as you work together with a friend to snipe targets from afar.
The shooting is great, the level is sprawling and packed with detail, and chasing challenges here is as fun and rewarding as in the rest of the game and provides sufficient motivation to play it over and over again.
Of course, the popular Elusive Targets feature makes a reappearance in 2, with unique targets that must be taken out within a specific time frame popping up every few weeks or so. The first one is a character based on Sean Bean (he of dying-in-nearly-everything-he-appears-in fame), with more to come.
I love the fact that Elusive Targets disappear forever if I fail to kill them, because that lends those missions an air of finality and really makes my adrenaline pump far more than it does in the game’s “safer” story missions. And the fact that they’ll keep on coming gives players reasons to come back to the game every month or so, which is a genius move on IO’s part.
IO Interactive has really nailed the HITMAN formula with HITMAN 2, as far as I’m concerned, perfecting the vision they attempted to create with the reboot in 2016.
That it’s not a revolution, and more an evolution, makes HITMAN 2 feel less like a full sequel and more like a 1.5 iteration of an existing idea. Fortunately, I don’t have a problem with that: I loved what I played. Most of all I’m grateful that it’s a complete game this time and not an episodic release.
In HITMAN 2 IO has created interesting locations, given players the right mix of tools and weapons with which to approach their objectives creatively, provided plenty of motivation to re-play levels, told a fun story, and added so much nuance to their environments that I am sure myself and other fans will be playing HITMAN 2 for months to come.
HITMAN 2 was reviewed on an Xbox One X, and a copy of the game was provided to us by the local distributor.